Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
I’m on an L-2 visa as a dependent spouse to my husband’s L-1A. My EAD (work permit) is expiring in May – we filed for the extension of both my visa and EAD a few months ago. How long is the current process? Might there be anything I can do so my employment isn’t affected?
— Career Centered
I’ve got fantastic news for you and other L-1 spouses – and your employers! As long as your visa remains valid, you are no longer at risk of having your employment interrupted due to delays in getting your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Thanks to a policy change by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), getting work authorization is now easier for L-2 spouses of L-1 visa holders as well as a few other categories as well. As Elon said this week, for anybody who wants to work hard in the U.S., immigration should be a “no-brainer.”
Soaring processing times
During the past two years, processing times for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) soared due to a combination of backlogs prompted by the pandemic, funding issues, and paper-based USCIS processing procedures. Depending on which USCIS service center processed the EAD renewal application (Form I-765), timing ranged from about 90 days to more than one year! Interestingly to note, that it can take anywhere from 7.5 to 14.5 months to process EADs at the California Service Center. At the Texas Service Center, it can take 2 to 13 months.
Lawsuit prompts big policy changes
Last September, a group of spouse-dependent visa holders filed a class-action lawsuit against the Secretary of Homeland Security, who oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS.) The suit was filed on behalf of dependent spouses of H-1B and L-1 visa holders. Many of these individuals had been forced to stop working when USCIS failed to approve and send out new EADs before the current ones expired due to substantial processing delays. The situation was compounded by the fact that EAD renewals can’t be filed more than six months in advance of their expiration date. Obviously a huge issue!
In November of 2021, USCIS reached a settlement agreement in the lawsuit. Under the settlement, the L-2 spouses of L-1 visa holders no longer need EADs, which means as long as your L-2 visa remains valid, you are allowed to work. What fantastic news this was! According to the USCIS Case Processing Times website, the processing time for extending L visas can be more than 12 months. However, USCIS recently announced it is taking steps to reduce the processing time for L and other work visa extensions to three months.
Under the settlement, eligible H-4 visa holders, who are the spouses of H-1B visa holders, will still need to apply for an EAD in order to work, but their EAD will automatically be extended if they file to renew their EAD before the deadline. Although their EAD will now remain valid for 180 days beyond its expiration date, it remains critical that H-4 visa extension requests are filed well before the visa is set to expire.
In a policy statement that USCIS issued a few days after the settlement was reached, the agency added guidance on work authorization for spouses of E visa holders. Like the L-2 spouses of L-1 visa holders, E visa spouses now are allowed to work as long as their visa remains valid, which means they don’t need to apply for or renew an EAD.
- USCIS also recently announced premium processing will be available for Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) for E-1, E-2, E-3, H-4, L-2, and O-3 visas sometime in fiscal year 2025.
- H-4 and L-2 visa holders who applied for new work authorization received an automatic extension of at least six months beyond the expiration date of their Form I-94. (The I-94 is the travel record that indicates your arrival in the U.S. and how long you are allowed to stay in the U.S.)
You should have already received—or will soon receive—a special notice from USCIS of the policy change that can be used as evidence of employment authorization. USCIS announced it was issuing these notices to eligible E or L spouses age 21 or over who had a valid Form I-94 issued before Jan. 30, 2022. If you do not receive the special notice by April 30, or are an E or L spouse who is under 21, send an email to USCIS at E-L-married-U21@uscis.dhs.gov and request a notice.
Have you talked to your employer about sponsoring you for a work visa? If you qualify, the O-1A visa for individuals with extraordinary ability is one of the quickest work visas to get with premium processing.
Now you can focus on your career and not waste precious time and energy worrying about whether you’ll have to leave your job due to an expired EAD!
All my best,
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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!
Also published on Medium.